Read aloud!

The importance of listening to stories

Children and students retain more information, and also gain greater understanding, when they hear someone read to them, argues Stephen Murgatroyd, Head of Libraries at Bangkok Patana School.

A habit that dies

How many of us, as parents, have read to our children from a very young age, often from birth? I suspect it could well be the great majority of us. However, how many of us continue to read with our children once they are confident (independent) readers themselves? I suspect the numbers are lower than we would imagine. In fact, a 2013 poll of 1200 Australian parents (1) reportedly found that 40 per cent of parents with toddlers or preschool children read to their children every day. However, this figure dropped to 23 per cent for early primary children and 4 per cent for children aged between nine and 12.

Being read to and retention

We may all understand the importance of reading stories to very young children so that they are exposed to new vocabulary and have the reading ‘modelled’ to them along, with sharing new worlds and investigating and solving real (and out of this world) problems. However, studies have also shown (2) that children and students retain more information, and also gain a greater understanding, when they hear someone read to them than when they read it quietly themselves. There is also the ‘specialness’ of being able to spend time together.

Extending children

Another aspect of reading out loud to children is that you can expose them to books that are beyond their age-related reading level, outside their comfort zone, investigates new areas of interest, widens their vocabulary, introduces them to aspects of life they are unlikely to experience themselves – all of which helps and encourages them to become the true global citizens we want them to be. After all, reading, as a key part of their literary development is massively important.

Audio books and videos

There are other opportunities out there for engaging children and teenagers in books using the spoken word. Audio books on CDs or via Podcasts, plus stories read by famous people that can be watched on YouTube, allow children and teenagers access to stories other than through the actual printed page. Now that you can use YouTube with a ‘safety net’; Safe Search Kids (a website for making YouTube safe) and SafeYouTube (creating safe links to watch YouTube videos with) spring to mind, links to stories can be created without the risk of younger children watching videos that are inappropriate for them.

Listening while doing

Audio books are also great for the journey to and from school and can also be used at other times when traditional reading would struggle to work – perhaps at tidying up time or during getting ready for bed routines. There will be times when the whole family can enjoy a story and then possibly share their thoughts about it before, during and after listening to whatever has been chosen! Purposeful reading has never sounded so good.

If you are still not convinced about the power of reading out loud to your children as they grow, why not watch the following TEDx Youth Talk, by Rebecca Bellingham on YouTube. It is a wonderful talk that lasts nine and a half minutes and it helps to illustrate why reading out loud to children (of whatever age) is a great thing to do, both for the child (or the teenager) and the parent.

Mem Fox (3), the well-known Australian children’s author, suggests that “young children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read. Or the same story a thousand times!” Now that is an enormous amount of time to invest, but just like any investment you make, the more you put into shared reading, the more everyone will get out of it. So . . . .  don’t let the habit die . . . .


Stephen Murgatroyd.

Head of Libraries

Bangkok Patana School.


  1. Scholastic ‘Kids and Family Reading report’ (2015)
  2. The Sydney Morning Herald  – Reading aloud has huge benefits to children but many parents stop too early
  3. Mem Fox, (26.09.13.)


Feature image:  Aline Dassel from Pixabay